Speech by Prime Minister Theresa May at the CFI Annual Business Lunch 2016
13 December 2016
Thank you, Hilda, for that introduction and for those kind words. And thank you to everyone who has made this event happen: Michael Heller; Henry Davis; our sponsors, Canaccord; James Gurd and the team from CFI; and, of course, the one and only Stuart Polak. And can I just say how great it is to see you bringing to the House of Lords the energy and tenacity you have brought to CFI for so many years.
These Conservative Friends of Israel lunches are always special. But this year feels extra special. Not only is this CFI’s biggest ever lunch, with over 800 people and over 200 Parliamentarians. It is special for me because it is the first time I have come here as Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party. And it is a special time, because as others have refereed to, we are entering the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration.
On the 2nd of November 1917, the then Foreign Secretary – a Conservative Foreign Secretary – Arthur James Balfour wrote: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
It is one of the most important letters in history. It demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people. And it is an anniversary we will be marking with pride.
Born of that letter, and the efforts of so many people, is a remarkable country. No one is saying the path has been perfect – or that many problems do not remain.
Of course, people are correct when they say that securing the rights of Palestinians and Palestinian statehood have not yet been achieved. But we know they can be achieved. We in Britain stand very firmly for a two-state solution. And we know that the way to achieve that is for the two sides to sit down together, without preconditions, and work towards that lasting solution for all their people. None of this detracts from the fact that we have, in Israel, a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance, an engine of enterprise and an example to the rest of the world for overcoming adversity and defying disadvantages.
As most of us here know – and as I realised during my visit in 2014 – seeing is believing.
For it is only when you walk through Jerusalem or Tel Aviv that you see a country where people of all religions and sexualities are free and equal in the eyes of the law.
It is only when you travel across the country that you realise it is only the size of Wales – and appreciate even more the impact it has on the world.
It is only when you meet our partners in eradicating modern slavery – one of the main reasons I visited in 2014 – that you see a country committed to tackling some of the world’s most heinous practices.
It is only when you witness Israel’s vulnerability that you see the constant danger Israelis face, as I did during my visit, when the bodies of the murdered teenagers, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, were discovered.
So seeing isn’t just believing; it is understanding, acknowledging and appreciating.
And that is why I’m so pleased that CFI has already taken 34 of the 74 Conservative MPs elected in 2015 to Israel.
And we saw in that video what a powerful experience it can be. We are so grateful to the people in this room for making it happen – but, of course, there is more to do.
We meet at a moment of great change for our country. In the wake of the referendum, Britain is forging a new role for itself on the world stage – open, outward-looking, optimistic.
Israel will be crucial to us as we do that. Because I believe our two countries have a great deal in common.
As the Ambassador Mark Regev said, we have common values; we work together, on health, counter-terrorism, cyber security, technology; and we can help each other achieve our aims.
First, we both want to take maximum advantage of trade and investment opportunities, because we know enterprise is the key to our countries’ prosperity.
Our economic relationship is already strong. The UK is Israel’s second-largest trading partner. We are its number-one destination for investment in Europe, with more than 300 Israeli companies operating here. And last year saw our countries’ biggest-ever business deal, worth over £1 billion, when Israeli airline El Al decided to use Rolls Royce engines in its new aircraft.
We should celebrate that, and we should build on that – and we should condemn any attempt to undermine that through boycotts.
I couldn’t be clearer: the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is wrong, it is unacceptable, and this party and this government will have no truck with those who subscribe to it.
Our focus is the opposite – on taking our trading and investing relationship with Israel to the next level.
That is why one of the first places Mark Garnier visited as a minister in the Department for International Trade was Israel. It’s why other ministers plan to visit in the New Year.
We have the captains of British business and industry here in the audience, from a range of sectors, who will be vital to that effort.
I can assure them and everyone here that the UK is striving to be the world’s foremost advocate of free trade, working with a range of partners such as India, Norway and New Zealand to achieve that.
I am looking forward to adding Israel to the list – once again, working together to achieve our aims.
Second, we both take our global obligations seriously.
As I have said, Israel does a huge amount for the rest of the world.
I think of the injured Syrians appearing at night at the Israeli border and being taken in and given treatment in hospital.
I think of the Israeli field hospital, which has saved lives from Nepal to Haiti, recently being rated the best in history by the World Health Organisation.
And I think of the project “Save a Child’s Heart”, which, as you saw in that video, conducts heart operations for children who would never be able to afford the treatment.
This is Israel at its best.
And there was one man who did so much to inspire this spirit of service, a man whose death we mourn this year: Shimon Peres.
Britain is proud to do meet its moral obligations, too, fulfilling our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid. And lives are being saved right now because of it. But part of that duty is making sure the funds go to the right places.
And let me be clear: no British taxpayers’ money will be used to make payments to terrorists or their families.
And it is right that Priti Patel has called for an examination of aid spending in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to ensure that every penny is spent in the right places and in the right way. [Don’t worry. I’m going to continue…] And she is looking at options for the UK to support co-existence projects in the region – something I know that many people in this room have called for.
We are determined to get the right help to those who need it most – and I pay tribute to Priti for leading that work.
When talking about global obligations, we must be honest with our friends, like Israel, because that is what true friendship is about. That is why we have been clear about building new, illegal settlements: it is wrong; it is not conducive to peace; and it must stop.
Third, both our countries are working to build fair, tolerant and meritocratic societies.
Indeed, that is the driving mission of the government I lead: to build a country that works for everyone, not just a privileged few.
As I have said, Israel guarantees the rights of people of all religions, races and sexualities, and it wants to enable everyone to flourish. Our aim in Britain is the same: to create a better, fairer society, helping everyone to reach as far as their talents will allow.
And that is why we should be so proud of the contribution Britain’s Jewish communities make to our country. From business to the arts, public services to education, that contribution is exemplary.
In order to help people of all backgrounds reach their potential, we need to remove the barriers that stand in their way – and that includes bigotry, discrimination and hatred.
Let me be clear: it is unacceptable that there is anti-Semitism in this country. It is even worse that incidents are reportedly on the rise. And it is disgusting that these twisted views are being found in British politics.
Of course, I am talking mainly about the Labour Party and their hard-left allies.
In fact, I understand this lunch has a lot to live up to after the extraordinary scenes at the Labour Friends of Israel event.
It began, unusually, with Tom Watson giving a full-throated rendition of Am Yisrael Hai.
The audience joined in as his baritone voice carried across the hall. “Am Yisrael Hai – the people of Israel live.” It is a sentiment that everybody in this room wholeheartedly agrees with.
But let me say this: no amount of karaoke can make up for turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism. No matter what Labour say – or sing – they cannot ignore what has been happening in their party. Anti-Semitism should have no place in politics and no place in this country. And I am proud to lead a party that takes the firmest stand against it. And as a government, we are making a real difference.
Indeed, when I was Home Secretary, we took what I believe was an important step in gauging a truer picture of the problem, requiring all police forces to record religious hate crimes separately, by faith. And I made sure we kept extremism – including the sort that peddles anti-Semitic vitriol – out of our country.
That is why I said no to so-called comedians like Dieudonne coming to Britain.
It’s why I stopped Pamella Geller, Robert Spencer and Pastor Terry Jones coming, too – since Islamophobia comes from the same wellspring of hatred.
It is why I kicked out Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada as well.
And it is why I brought together internet companies and government to tear down the poisonous propaganda that infects minds online.
Today, I want to announce how we are going even further.
In response to the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Britain will be adopting a formal definition of anti-Semitism.
Just last week, we were at the forefront to try to ensure that the definition was adopted across the continent, too, at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The result was 56 countries in favour. One country opposed it: Russia. But, as I said, we will adopt it here in the UK.
That means there will be one definition of anti-Semitism – in essence, language or behaviour that displays hatred towards Jews because they are Jews – and anyone guilty of that will be called out on it.
And we have to thank someone who has worked tooth and nail to get that agreed. He’s our Parliamentary Chairman; my Post-Holocaust Issues Envoy; he’s a stalwart of our party: Sir Eric Pickles.
And let us pay tribute to Sajid Javid, too, for all his work in this ground-breaking step towards eradicating anti-Semitism.
Of course, as the people of Israel know, there is no better way of stopping the wrongs of the past being repeated than remembering where hatred can lead.
I have visited Yad Vashem. I remember standing in the Hall of Names – gazing up at all those victims’ pictures – and then looking down into the abyss and thinking of the millions more who were murdered.
It is an experience which is unforgettable – the closest thing we have to conveying what happened and why we must never repeat it.
That is why I am continuing David Cameron’s vision to build a National Memorial to the Holocaust next to Parliament, together with an accompanying educational centre, which will include the first-hand testimony of Britain’s Holocaust survivors.
The design competition for the memorial and centre has had almost 100 entries from teams stretching across 26 different countries.
I look forward to unveiling the short-listed designs next month when we mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
For we must honour our promise to Britain’s Holocaust survivors; we must never forget the Holocaust; and we must teach every generation to fight hatred and prejudice in all its forms.
When we talk about our countries achieving our aims together, that isn’t just for the good of Israel and Britain; it’s for the good of the world.
When our scientists come together, they are working to cure diseases that affect millions of people.
When we work together on our mutual security at the highest level, it makes the world safer.
When we increase trade and investment with one another, it brings more opportunities and prosperity to the wider world.
It is that collaboration that this organisation, CFI, so wonderfully celebrates and builds upon.
I want to end by wishing you well for something else Britain and Israel will be shortly collaborating on. For Christmas and Chanukah fall at the same time this year.
So as we light up our trees and menorahs; sing Silent Night and Ma’oz Tsur; cook the turkey and the latkes, let us look to 2017 with gratitude and optimism.
Happy Christmas, Happy Chanukah – and Happy New Year to you all.
Thank you. Thank you very much.